Economic Update – March 22, 2010





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Last Week in the News

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Industrial production at the nation’s factories, mines and utilities increased 0.1% in February, following a 0.9% gain in January. It was the eighth consecutive monthly increase. The overall factory-operating rate rose to 72.7% of capacity in February from 72.6% in January.

The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo housing market index fell two points in March to 15. Economists had anticipated a reading of 17. An index reading below 50 indicates negative sentiment about the housing market. The last time the index was above 50 was in April 2006.

The combined construction of new single-family homes and apartments in February fell 5.9% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 575,000 units. The decrease was largely blamed on winter blizzards in the Northeast and South. Applications for new building permits, seen as an indicator of future activity, fell 1.6% to 612,000 units.

Import prices fell 0.3% in February following a 1.3% increase in January. The drop was driven by 2.2% decline in petroleum prices. On a year-over-year basis, import prices are up 2.1%. According to the report, export prices fell 0.5% in February.

The producer price index, which tracks wholesale price inflation, fell 0.6% in February, following a 1.4% increase in January. Economists had expected a decrease of 0.3%.

Consumer prices were flat last month following a 0.2% gain in January. A rise in food prices in February was offset by a decline in gasoline and other energy costs.

The index of leading economic indicators — designed to forecast economic activity in the next three to six months — rose 0.1% in February after a 0.3% gain in January. It was the 11th straight monthly increase and the longest series of gains since 2003.

Upcoming on the economic calendar are reports on existing home sales on March 23, new home sales on March 24 and consumer sentiment on March 26.

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